“Heat the bodies, not the walls”: they live without central heating

“Heat the bodies, not the walls”: they live without central heating


“There are six of us in the family, we have a 200 square meter house and, at the moment, we are setting the central thermostat to a maximum of 15°C.”

< p>In the living room of Geoffrey Van Moeseke, in Louvain-la-Neuve, in central Belgium, the thermometer reads 14.5°C. Outside, the temperatures are negative. Despite the frost, which can be seen through the large bay windows of his living room, he assures us that he does not feel the cold.

For the third consecutive year , the engineer applies to his home the principles of the SlowHeat project – “slow heating” – for which he is both researcher and guinea pig. 

This research project, coordinated by the University of Leuven, involves four researchers and around twenty citizens.

The idea is simple: “Heat bodies, not walls.”

In other words, look for back-up solutions that allow local heating while spending much less energy than with central heating.

First reflex advocated by the researchers? Adapt your wardrobe! “Currently, I wear a cotton sweater, quite classic, over which I have an old, fairly warm cardigan. Underneath, I still have two layers: a T-shirt and technical sportswear, outdoor clothing, which really brings quality,” he explains.

< p>For the feet, socks and “old lined slippers which are extremely hot”. 

Second advice: prefer electric radiant heaters. Geoffrey Van Moeseke owns two of them, which he lights one to two hours a day: one in the living room, the other in his eldest son's bedroom, the coldest room in the house – the average temperature exceeds rarely 12 °C. This radiant panel – table on the desk – emits powerful heat quickly.  

On their site, the researchers also recommend the electric heating cap, the purchase of which is “paid for in a month”, they assure. Facing the computer, some of them use heated mouse pads.

“They thought we were crazy”

Launched in September 2020, the SlowHeat project aimed to anticipate an energy crisis. 

“We wondered what would happen if all of a sudden, we had no more gas”, explains Denis de Grave, research assistant at the University of Louvain.

“At the beginning, we were taken for crazy”, testifies Grégoire Wallenborn, researcher and teacher at the Free University of Brussels, wrapped in a big vest, a cap screwed on his head and mittens on his hands. In his apartment in Brussels, the average temperature fluctuates between 12°C and 14°C.

Two years later, inflation and the war in Ukraine have caused the energy prices in Europe and the SlowHeat project is enjoying renewed interest.

While gas and electricity bills are only rising, Geoffrey Van Moeseke only pays, on average, 70 euros per month for heating. 

Before testing their methods, the researchers from SlowHeat had to convince their family.

“I brought the project in little by little,” says Geoffrey Van Moeseke. “It was more difficult the first winter than the second, which shows that there is a form of habit and adaptation that takes place over time.” 

For his younger brother, Célestin, 11, wearing a wool sweater and shorts revealing his bare legs, the temperature is not a subject: “I know that the first winter was harsher, we were used to a higher temperature. hot, but there, I completely got used to it. I think it's hot here,” he smiles.

Not an “injunction”

But this has not been the case everywhere. The fear of the cold, the fear that neighbors or friends would no longer want to visit them, the fear of conflicts within the roommate or the household… “We had to overcome fears at the beginning”, recognizes the researcher.

Some habits are more complicated than others to adopt, such as the pedal set installed under the desk, which allows you to stay in motion even while working.

< p> And the approach sometimes arouses strong reactions. “Some see the project as an injunction to stay in poverty”, regrets Geoffrey Van Moeseke. 

The researchers readily acknowledge that their project is not a miracle solution which would apply to everyone, but they defend the need to rethink our habits, our relationship to consumption, and therefore to energy.

“The objective is absolutely not to tell people : you will be cold. The idea is to keep the same level of comfort, but with a few degrees less”, explains Amélie Anciaux, sociologist at the University of Louvain and member of SlowHeat.